Protecting Your Privacy on Amazon Echo and Google Home

If Santa left an Amazon Echo or Google Home in your stocking over Christmas, you might want to take a few precautions to make sure he isn’t using them to snoop on who’s naughty and who’s nice.

The Echo and Home both work in a similar manner. They constantly listen for a trigger phrase, “Hey Alexa” or “OK Google”, respectively. Once activated, they record the following voice query, then upload it to the cloud. Once on Amazon’s or Google’s servers, the recording is analyzed, and an appropriate response is returned.

Each boasts a roster of unique features to entice shoppers. The $130 Google Home [pictured above] can sync with any device that supports Google Cast, like Android smartphones and Chromecasts. The $180 Echo relies on Bluetooth, which makes it more compatible with smart home devices and wearables.

Differences aside, both share one major downside: privacy. Both Alexa and the Google Voice Assistant are constantly listening to everyone within microphone range for input by default. That core function broaches a series of privacy concerns:

The microphones are always listening unless physically muted.

The voice assistants cannot differentiate between different people.

The devices upload recordings and store them on cloud servers.

Data collected from recordings and subsequent analyses is used to provide a customized experience and, in all likelihood, targeted advertising.

The device’s location is used to give more accurate searches and, again, targeted advertisements.

Data may be shared with third parties unknown to the user.

All of the data passed between an Echo or Home and its corresponding servers is encrypted, so security is not so much an issue. A hacker won’t be able to decipher any intercepted communication.

The larger concern is privacy, rather than security. Talking to an Echo or Home requires trust in Amazon and Google. Beyond that, it in turn requires trust in third-party developers that create all…

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